Rollie Atkinson

The month of May, now almost over, is/was Small Business Month in California and May 5 through 11 was National Small Business Week.
These seem like some of those declarations similar to Mother’s Day when someone says “every day” should be Mother’s Day. So, we say every day around here should be small business day. More than anything else, it is the mix of our small businesses that define the physical look, civic energy, local employment, sense of community pride and future outlook of Windsor.

Windsor’s various business districts are the lifelines of the community and our local economy. From Oliver’s Market and Garrett Hardware along Old Redwood Highway, to the Town Green area, Lakewood Hills, Windsor Palms and the Shiloh Road complex at the south, in between are hundreds of small and locally owned businesses. All these many small, mostly independent businesses come and go with the ebb and flow of the economy. And many of these businesses have hidden struggles right now in a radically changing economy with new competition such as Amazon.
Few people remember all the way back to 1985 when Windsor had only one grocery store (Raley’s) and one shopping center. The Town of Windsor was incorporated in 1992 and soon after the Olde Town shopping district and Town Green were constructed. Windsor’s mix of local businesses has seen a steady change but it also represents a steady development of essential goods and services, family-oriented businesses and fun dining and unique retail experiences.
What’s important when we salute our variety of local businesses is that we have a healthy mixture of local services, attractive retail, professional offices and hospitality, wine and food attractions. As a young city that grew up fast in the 1990s, Windsor is still defining itself. Last year’s opening of the Russian River Brewery and related events is putting our town on different maps. Now, we are also focusing developing a new civic center next the Town Green. We have always been challenged by the east-west separation of our community caused by Highway 101. Not everyone can walk to the Town Green or farmers markets because of this division of concrete, overpasses and heavy traffic.
Windsor has maintained a core mix of local businesses and, unlike many communities of a similar size, there is a local newspaper, The Windsor Times. The local newspaper is just one of many community institutions and nonprofits that would not exist without this robust and diverse local economy defined and driven by our hundreds of brave, historic, ever-changing or newly-emerging enterprises.
Small business ownership has many challenges. Right now hiring workers and retaining staff is a problem because of low unemployment and expensive housing. Some commercial rents and other business costs keep increasing each year. But the biggest challenges are the least visible when you look around Windsor’s commercial core. What we don’t see is how many of us are not shopping here. We don’t know how many local shopping dollars now get gobbled up by Amazon or other online companies. Regional and national figures suggest that local economies like Windsor’s are losing 20% or more each year to the convenience of 24/7 Amazon-like “click and ship” retailing.
If we let Amazon control even a small percentage of Windsor’s economy, all those internet clicks and social media marketing ploys will continue to erode our local economic vitality that has allowed Windsor to grow from a one-store town to a community with many defined neighborhoods, expanding hospitality industry and a downtown worthy of a SMART train visit.
— Rollie Atkinson

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